Are U.S., Canada still crushing world of women’s hockey?

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SOCHI, Russia — Don’t let the final score fool you. This was not a particularly close game. The United States beat Finland, 3-1, Saturday in the first women’s hockey game of the Olympics, but for the really telling stat, one must consider the shots: 43 for the Americans, only 15 for the Finns.

Fifty-three seconds is all it took for U.S. forward Hilary Knight to open the scoring at Shayba Arena, capitalizing on a giveaway to beat the Finns’ superb (and busy) goalie, Noora Raty.

“Obviously, to have an opportunity to score in the first minute of the game sets the tone,” said U.S. coach Katey Stone.

The Americans dominated after Knight’s goal. The score was 3-0 by the end of the second period, with the shots 33-7. The Finns managed a power-play goal late in the third to spoil Jessie Vetter’s shutout bid, but the outcome was all but official by then.

Stone, though, was eager to give her opponent credit.

“They played very well in front of Noora Raty,” she said. “It’s not just about the goaltending. It’s about how well that their team plays in front of her. They made it very difficult for us.”

Stone was also sure to express her belief that the women’s Olympic tournament is a “world event that anyone can win.”

WATCH: How impressive was U.S. victory?

Finland is the third-ranked team in the world, by the way. The U.S. is first, Canada, a 5-0 winners vs. Switzerland on Saturday, is second.

And the competitiveness of the women’s tournament is, of course, a sensitive topic. In 2010, the U.S. and Canada so badly dominated the rest of the teams that then-IOC president Jacques Rogge threatened its place in the Olympics.

“There is a discrepancy there. Everyone agrees with that,” he said. “We cannot continue without improvement.”

Hence, sensitivities to suggestions there hasn’t been enough “improvement” in the “discrepancy” department.

This year’s tournament even has a new, unique format to reduce the number of blowouts – like Canada over Slovakia 18-0, or the United States defeating Russia 13-0 – that occurred in Vancouver.

In Sochi, there’s an A group with the top four seeds (U.S., Canada, Finland, Switzerland) and a B group with seeds 5-8 (Sweden, Japan, Russia, Germany). For the preliminary round, all the teams in the A group will play each other, and all the teams in the B group will play each other. After that, the top two in the A group will get a bye to the semifinals, while the bottom two in the A group and the top two in the B group will meet in the quarters.

WATCH: Highlights from 3-1 U.S. victory

It’s extremely unlikely, but theoretically, a team in the A group could lose all three of its preliminary round games and still win the gold medal.

That isn’t how most tournaments work.

U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said Saturday that she doesn’t worry about it.

“I just see all the other teams getting better every year,” she said, “and I think our rivalry with Canada, that just makes people want to watch more.”

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan struck a similar tone.

“To be honest, the media makes it a bigger deal than we do in our locker room,” she said.

But Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the greatest women’s hockey player ever, isn’t quite so carefree.

“I think I always worry about the future of women’s hockey, mainly because of the fact that most of the world pays attention to the game only two weeks out of every four years,” Wickenheiser said earlier this week, according to the Globe and Mail. “The tournament has to be competitive, there’s no question, and countries have to show progress. That’s the number one thing.”

Progress, though, is a tough thing to measure, because it’s not like the top two countries are standing still.

“The problem is that Canada and the U.S. continue to improve and it’s harder for the other countries to catch up. So that’s a dilemma that women’s hockey is always going to face,” Wickenheiser said.

“I think the game has really come a long way in the [four] Olympics that we’ve seen.”

The U.S. plays Switzerland Monday before closing out the preliminary round Wednesday versus Canada.

Russian skiers stay suspended awaiting Olympic doping cases

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Six Russian cross-country skiers will stay suspended until an IOC panel judges if they were part of a state-backed doping conspiracy at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says the Olympic commission – chaired by International Olympic Committee member Denis Oswald – should deliver rulings “during the summer period.”

The court says the skiers will stay provisionally suspended until at least Oct. 31. They include Alexander Legkov, the Olympic 50-kilometer freestyle champion, and Maxim Vylegzhanin, a three-time silver medalist at Sochi.

The skiers appealed against interim bans imposed by the International Ski Federation in December after they were implicated by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.

CAS hearings this month did not examine detailed doping allegations against Legkov, Vylegzhanin, Alexey Petukhov, Evgenia Shapovalova, Evgeniy Belov and Julia Ivanova.

Tori Bowie upsets Elaine Thompson; Gatlin, Felix struggle at Pre

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Tori Bowie ran a statement 200m at the Pre Classic, clocking the fastest-ever time before the month of June and upsetting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica.

And she called it a training race.

“My coach made it clear that we were just training for nationals,” Bowie, huffing and puffing after winning in 21.77 seconds, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “No pressure at all.”

Bowie, the Olympic 100m silver medalist and 200m bronze medalist, beat her personal best by .22 of a second.

While Bowie starred, U.S. stalwarts Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin dropped to fifth-place finishes Saturday.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

Athletes are preparing for the U.S. Championships from June 23-25, a qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Felix finished fifth in the 200m behind Bowie, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller, Thompson and Olympic 200m silver medalist Dafne Schippers.

“Not that great, not that great today,” Felix said, according to meet officials. “I feel like my training is going well, it was good to get out here and see where I was at.”

Felix has a bye into the worlds in the 400m as defending world champion but is no longer a medal favorite in the 200m, where she won Olympic silver in 2004 and 2008 and gold in 2012. She clocked 22.33 seconds for fifth Saturday, which was .35 behind third-place Thompson.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 while slowed by an ankle injury. But in 2015, a healthy Felix ran faster than 22.33 in all four of her 200m races.

Gatlin finished fifth in the 100m in 9.97 seconds, continuing his slowest season in recent years. At 35 years old, he is no longer looking like the top rival to Usain Bolt, who debuts in his farewell season June 10.

In fact, Gatlin may be in danger of not making the U.S. team in the 100m, which will be the top three finishers at nationals in four weeks.

In contrast, American Ronnie Baker is looking like a medal contender. He won Saturday in 9.86 seconds, which would be the fastest time in the world this year if not for too much tailwind (2.4 meters/second).

Baker, 23, has been a surprise this season, breaking 10 seconds a total of three times including Saturday. He was eliminated in the 2016 Olympic Trials semifinals and had not broken 10 seconds with legal wind before this year.

“My thoughts were, I’ve got every chance to win this just as much as everyone else does,” Baker told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “9.86 is unbelievable.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 16-year-old, became one of the youngest-ever to break four minutes in the mile. He finished 11th against a field of older runners.

Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah held off Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to extend his 5000m winning streak to 11 meets dating to 2013. Farah clocked 13:00.7 to Kejelcha’s 13:01.21.

It marked Farah’s last track race in the U.S. as the Oregon-based Brit plans to switch to marathon running after the world championships in August.

Rio gold medalist Caster Semenya barely extended her 800m undefeated streak to 16 finals. The scrutinized South Africa edged Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui by one tenth of a second, clocking 1:59.78.

Olympic champion Omar McLeod took the 110m hurdles in 13.01 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. McLeod beat a field that included Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.80), and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, recorded the third-best triple jump of all time, 18.11 meters.

Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault against a field that included Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Swedish phenom Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior. Kendricks cleared 5.86 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won the 400m hurdles in 53.38 seconds, a personal best and the fastest time in the world this year. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was fifth in her first 400m hurdles race of the year.

In the shot put, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser unleashed a 22.43-meter throw to beat a field including world champion Joe Kovacs.

Jasmin Stowers won the 100m hurdles in 12.59 seconds, .03 off the fastest time in the world this year. The field lacked suspended Olympic champion Brianna Rollins and world-record holder Keni Harrison, who recently suffered a broken hand.

Russian Maria Lasitskene won the high jump in her first competition outside of Russia since 2015, when she was world champion. Lasitskene competed as a neutral athlete Saturday as Russia is still banned from international competition due to its poor anti-doping record. Her 2.03-meter clearance matched the best in the world since June 2013.

The Diamond League continues in Rome on June 8, with coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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